On June 2021, the Maine State Legislature passed L.D. 1585, a bill that would ban most uses of facial recognition technology by public officials. This act, introduced by Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland), is the strictest facial recognition law in the United States. The fact that it was passed unanimously by the State House and Senate, without need for approval from Governor Janet Mills, speaks to the bipartisan appeal of limiting the government’s ability to monitor its citizens.
Supporters of the ban have celebrated the bill’s passage. Rep. Lookner stated that the vote was “victory for privacy rights and civil liberties.” Alison Bevea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine suggested the bill puts Maine “at the forefront of a national movement to preserve civil rights and liberties in the digital age.” In other states, such as Michigan and New York, human rights groups have been putting pressure on state legislatures to implement similar bans.
But Maine’s ban is misguided. The outright banning of facial recognition technology is detrimental to the security and safety of Maine’s residents and could leave them vulnerable to criminal activity. Police will not be able to use facial recognition directly, and they will also be barred from accessing existing facial recognition systems being used in the private sector.
Advocates of L.D. 1585 are ignoring the many valid use cases of facial recognition technology. Take the example of banking. Facial recognition technology can play a vital role in verifying client’s identities to prevent identity fraud. Under the bill’s provisions, law enforcement agencies in Maine will not be able to access these systems and consumers will be more vulnerable to identity theft, a problem that costs Americans $56 billion a year.
The security of car owners will also be jeopardized. Facial recognition technology has been implemented by many vehicle manufacturers as a way of preventing car theft. This technology scans the face of the individual trying to open the car and will compare it with a list of authorized faces set by the owner of the vehicle. If there is no match, the car will not open. L.D. 1585 has prevented law enforcement from using this technology to investigate potential car thieves.
Maine’s bill is unprecedented in its scope. Few other states have passed laws addressing facial recognition. Unlike bills passed in Virginia and Massachusetts, which respectively require the use of facial recognition technology in law enforcement to be approved by the state legislature or a court, Maine’s bill bans facial recognition technology across state, county, and municipal levels with no recourse to have its use approved.
There are very narrow exceptions made where a request can be made, such as in a missing person investigation. In practice, however, the technology will almost never be employed due to L.D. 1585’s rigidity.
In other words, municipal, county, and state law enforcement in Maine will not be able to use facial recognition technology to investigate burglaries, cases of identity fraud, and other serious crimes. Other counties across the US, such as Pinellas County, Florida, have had significant success using this technology as part of their investigative operations. There, local police have successfully identified more than 400 criminals from 2014 to 2020 using facial recognition technology. Without facial recognition technology, there would be more dangerous criminals on the streets and residents would be less safe.
The identity verification software that is employed by banks, car manufacturers, and even in smartphones have been quickly improving over the past few years, demonstrating how facial recognition technology has real benefits for consumer safety.
Improvements in deep learning has meant that facial recognition can identify faces more accurately and consistently than before, reducing the potential for criminals to trick the AI algorithm. Allowing police to access these technologies will make consumers safer since suspects could be more easily identified. Losing access to this technology will make it harder for law enforcement to apprehend serious criminals. By preventing law enforcement from utilizing and accessing facial recognition systems, the bill will hinder law enforcement’s ability to target serious criminals.
During a time when security systems are more important than ever to prevent all forms of theft, Maine should be looking to see how facial recognition can help protect its residents. Consumers would be less safe as a result of the ban. It is unfortunate that this bill was passed, and other states must be careful not to follow Maine’s mistake.